Glass ceilings are meant to be broken, and the women that make up our history are changemakers, trailblazers, innovators, and icons. In celebration of Women’s History Month, it’s important to remember and give praise to the women who continue to break barriers in order to reshape industries to fit women in the narrative.
Growing up, you probably had a few different role models in your life, whether that be a celebrity or a loved one. (To this day, I still tell my mom, “I want to be you when I grow up.”) When you get to college, those role models turn into a source of inspiration as you work your way to your future. Though college might be draining and seem like the end is so far away, let the women of our history be a beacon of motivation as they prove hard work pays off. From political science to filmmaking, here are 11 famous women to look up to based on your major.
- Political science: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
A major in political science ranges from government work to philanthropic efforts and one woman encompasses all of that: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). She started finding her footing in the political world when she was a volunteer for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential run. Shortly after, she started her journey in philanthropy when she traveled cross-country alongside indigenous communities opposing a pipeline. In 2018, using her time with them as inspiration, she ran for Congress and won, making her the first congresswoman of color (and youngest) for New York’s 14th district.
Today, she continues to be an activist that fights for income equality, access to healthcare, criminal justice reform, gun reform, combating climate change, and much more.
- Journalism: Barbara Walters
Barbara Walters never shied away from breaking barriers in the journalism field. She made history as the first female co-host of the Today show and the first female co-anchor of a nightly news show, proving women do in fact have a place in the newsroom and on TV. Journalism majors can learn from her profound ability to ask the most daring interview questions to celebrities and public figures, and get an answer in return. Her dedication and confidence paved the way for more historical women in the industry, such as Diane Sawyer.
- English: Toni Morrison
Whether you’re an English major with a concentration in literature or creative writing, I bet you admire figures that changed the art of writing, and Toni Morrison did just that. Morrison didn’t publish her first novel, The Bluest Eye, until she was 39 years old, but once she did, she became a household name. In 1987, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel Beloved, making her the first Black woman to win this award in literature. Beloved told a true story about an enslaved woman, which created more opportunities for writers of color by showing that their history and commentary can be included in mainstream literature.
- Filmmaking: Greta Gerwig
A filmmaking major is no stranger to the heroes behind the screens. Directors bring stories to life, and Greta Gerwig has become decorated with accolades and praise for her ability to do so. Only seven women have been nominated for Best Director in Oscars history, and she is one of them. In 2017, Lady Bird, Gerwig’s first solo director gig, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director as well as four other Oscars. There are plenty of films made by female directors that go unnoticed or aren’t promoted by the media. It is important to immerse ourselves in these films to change what is often regarded as a male-dominated industry. Gerwig’s work is far from over as her latest project, Barbie, is set to be released in the summer of 2023.
- Pre-med: Virginia Apgar
When on the pre-med track, you might lose your motivation in between the endless research papers and labs but let Virginia Apgar be a figure of inspiration to keep you going. Apgar was an innovator in the medical field. She attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in 1929 where she was one of the only women in her class. After graduating in 1933, she focused on the anesthesia field, which at the time, was not seen as an equal field by other medical professionals.
Over 10 years later, anesthesiology finally started gaining some respect and Apgar’s contributions were recognized as she became the first woman professor at Columbia University for anesthesia research. After this, she made her greatest contribution with the Apgar score: a method used by doctors to evaluate the health of newborns right after birth. The score is still a modern practice in the neonatal health field today.
- Psychology: Francine Shapiro
The psychology field would not be what it is today without the contributions of key women in its history. From Anna Freud to Margaret Floy Washburn, women have shaped our ability to understand our minds and human behavior. Francine Shapiro is among those women that were a pioneer in discovering aspects of human emotions. Shapiro developed Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which is a method of psychotherapy that aids people in healing from trauma. Her innovation is still used today as an effective treatment for those with trauma or emotional distress.
- Environmental science: Rachel Carson
Environmental science majors take the time to look at the unknown and history to understand how it shapes the natural world. Rachel Carson was not afraid of exposing what was unknown to society in order to enact environmental change, and for that, she is a changemaker in environmental science. Writing has the ability to spark a movement (I think English majors would agree), which Carson did with her book Silent Spring. The book exposed the damaging effects of toxins and pesticides on our planet and on humans and is still regarded today as a basis for environmental change.
- Sports management: Nicole Lynn
Whether they are players on the field or take on roles that keep teams together, women in sports deserve more recognition. Nicole Lynn is an example of how women are making strides to rework the male-dominated industry. In the NFL, there are 800 sports agents, with only around 30 of them being women. Of those women, only around 20 have had clients in the league or are active on a roster. Lynn is a part of that small number, and her success proves there needs to be more representation of women, especially Black women, in the field.
In 2015, she became the first female agent to represent the well-respected NFL agency, PlayersRep. In 2019, she represented the No. 3 overall draft pick, Quinnen Williams. She has garnered a reputation for being a “superagent” in sports. In 2023, she made history again by being the first Black woman to represent a player in the Super Bowl. That player was none other than Jalen Hurts, the star quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles.
- Business: Rihanna
I never thought music and business majors would have icons in common, but Rihanna once again proves nothing is impossible. Queen RiRi first got her name in the music industry, but in recent years, she has become a well-respected entrepreneur and CEO. Her makeup brand Fenty Beauty singlehandedly changed the makeup game with its inclusivity, and its success has made Rihanna into a business mogul. Rihanna is now worth $1.7 billion, with the majority of that attributed to Fenty Beauty while the rest stems from her other business venture, Savage x Fenty, and her achievements as a musician.
- Digital media production: Shonda Rhimes
You know and love her. Shonda Rhimes is a legend in the TV industry. Though most known for her work as the showrunner for Grey’s Anatomy, Rhimes is a veteran and pioneer in the industry. She works to create diverse entertainment with Black leads and gives a voice to people of color. Her adept storytelling has led to her own production company, Shondaland. Shondaland is the magic behind hit shows like Bridgerton and Inventing Anna.
- Pre-law: Ketanji Brown Jackson
As the highest law of the land, the Supreme Court judges are responsible for enacting justice and often are figures behind history. Well, Ketanji Brown Jackson is writing her own history as the first woman of color on the Supreme Court. Before becoming a Supreme Court justice, she was a public defender, making her also the first public defender to serve on the Supreme Court. Her appointment in 2022 was a major step in creating a justice system that reflects the diversity of society.